One week left to give views on council budget and savings proposals
Residents in County Durham are being reminded to have their say on proposals to balance council budgets.
People have one more week to give their views on our proposed approach to try and meet a £37 million gap in its budget in the next financial year, including a potential 2.99 per cent increase in council tax.
The forecast budget deficit was outlined in a report to our Cabinet in October, which included an update on our Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP).
The report identified a requirement to find additional savings of more than £52 million between 2023/24 and 2026/27, with more than 70 per cent of this needing to be achieved in the next financial year - despite planned increases in council tax.
These pressures reflect the unprecedented strain on our budgets due to significant increases in inflation and interest rates, which are impacting on energy costs and fuel prices in particular.
The financial strain faced by us is being compounded further by expected pay settlements; National Living Wage increases; the outcome of the national Fair Cost of Care exercise, which may impact on the cost of adult social care; and increased costs for Looked After Children and Home to School Transport stemming from additional demand and complexity of need.
More worryingly, the forecasts do not factor in any potential funding reductions that may be passed on by Government later this year. The continued uncertainty about future financial settlements for local government is making it difficult for the authority to plan ahead with any confidence.
This has added challenges to the budget setting process, however we have developed a proposed approach on how we will make some of the savings needed and use our reserves to buy some time to delay any reductions in service delivery and develop a more sustainable solution.
Cllr Richard Bell, deputy leader of Durham County Council and Cabinet member for finance, said: "We are encouraging residents to have their say on a proposed approach we have developed to help balance our budget next year. It is important that people give their views as, given the unpreceded financial climate we are all operating in, we face some very difficult decisions and the need to make savings will likely impact on our services.
"The budgetary pressures we are experiencing are not unique to us - many local authorities that, unlike us, don't have reserves to fall back on in the short term could become unsustainable over the next year or so.
"The strategy we are implementing for next year will only buy us some time to work through these issues and delay these more impactful savings coming in, however this won't avoid these savings from needing to be implemented. Unless things change, we will have to publish details of further savings plans by summer 2023, so that we can be in a position to set a sustainable balanced budget for 2024/25 and beyond.
"We have written to the government, and will continue to lobby them, for additional financial support as we strive to balance budgets during these unprecedented times and try and alleviate some of the difficult choices we face."
Residents have until Tuesday 22 November to give their views on our proposals by completing an online survey.
There is also the option for residents to attend their local Area Action Partnership (AAP) board meeting to find out more and fill in the survey.
Alternatively, people can pick up a physical copy at one of the county's libraries or Customer Access Points.
To complete the survey online, or to book a place at one of the remaining AAP meetings, visit our consultations page.